Liberapay is in trouble

Our payment processor (Mangopay) is throwing us out. Liberapay won’t shut down, but the service will be disrupted until we can fully migrate away from Mangopay.

The first two sections of this blog post are about what you should do as a Liberapay user. Mangopay may cut us off as soon as July 26th, so don’t wait too long. The last section is about how Liberapay is going to change and improve in response to this crisis.

What you should do if you’re a donor

If you use Liberapay as a donor, please go to the new page titled “Emptying your wallet” and choose one of the two options. Here is a screenshot of that page:

The first choice is better if you wish to continue using Liberapay. It distributes all the money from your wallet to the people who would have normally received it over time. Our software has been modified to record this kind of operation properly, in particular the recipients will see that this sudden burst of income corresponds to multiple weeks of donations.

For example, if you’re donating $1 per week to 2 creators, and you have $40 in your wallet, then each creator will receive $20, and 20 weeks from now you’ll receive our usual email reminding you that it’s time to add money again.

Please note that the disbursement may fail for various reasons. We will be monitoring errors and trying to fix them, but in some cases the problem will be on the recipient side, for example someone who hasn’t filled the identity form or a team that hasn’t defined how the income should be split between the members.

What you can do if you receive donations on Liberapay

Withdraw your income from your Liberapay wallet to your bank account like you usually do. You may want to wait a week to give your patrons a chance to transfer the remaining of their donations from their wallets to yours.

We’ll inform you as soon as the integration of a new payment processor is complete, and tell you if there’s anything you need to do to start receiving donations again on Liberapay.

If you’re a member of a team, you should make sure that your take is set and up-to-date. You can do that from your “Receiving” page.

Why this is happening

Mangopay hasn’t provided a detailed explanation of their decision, so we’re not sure. We’ve tried to understand their concerns, they seemed related to the fact that Liberapay is open to everyone, so we proposed to review every user and block any potentially problematic account, but they rejected this proposal, saying that it’s too late for that.

To be clear, Mangopay never warned us that something was wrong and that they would terminate our contract if we didn’t right that wrong. We also didn’t expect them to end the contract so abruptly without following the normal procedure that would have given us until the end of the year to migrate elsewhere.

How Liberapay is going to come out of this better

Even before Mangopay informed us of their decision to kick us out we knew that Liberapay had to evolve in order to survive.

The number of donors on Liberapay has grown so much in the last 6 months that a design flaw in our platform has become apparent. We built Liberapay on the assumption that processing lots of small money transfers every week is okay when there are no fees, but we were wrong.

Screenshot of Liberapay’s stats page showing the sharp increase in active users and money transferred

To illustrate why it’s not viable, imagine receiving bank account statements more than 50 pages long every month. That is basically what would happen if we sent a monthly account statement to a Liberapay user who has hundreds of patrons.

Extract of a Liberapay account statement listing lots and lots of small weekly transfers…

In addition to the problems caused by the sheer number of transactions, the processing of donations over time also requires holding the donors’ funds in their “wallets”, often for many weeks. This way of doing things severely limits the number of payment processors we can use, because few of them can provide this kind of wallet.

So, we’re changing our approach of recurrent donations. Instead of distributing them weekly we’re going to distribute them as soon as the money arrives. For example, instead of disbursing a payment of €26 for a weekly donation of €0.50 as 52 weekly transfers of €0.50, we’ll do a single transfer of €26 and inform the recipient that it corresponds to “52 weeks of €0.50”.

With this new approach Liberapay will scale a lot better, the platform will be able to handle a very large number of donations without crumbling under its own weight.

Aside from this, Liberapay will also become a more global platform. We’ve learned the hard way that Mangopay isn’t very good at handling payments outside Europe, and now that we have a better understanding of the world’s payment infrastructure we’ll choose our payment processors more carefully.

If you’d like to follow or contribute to our work on migrating away from Mangopay you can do so in this GitHub issue.

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